Santa Fe County commissioners query language in civil rights invoice | Legislature | New Mexico Legislative Session

Santa Fe County Commissioners have rejected the language of a bill before lawmakers that would allow residents of New Mexico to file civil claims in the state district court against government agencies and employees for alleged violations of fundamental rights.

House Bill 4, which aims to create the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed a committee in the House of Representatives on Monday. It contains language that breaks the doctrine of qualified immunity as a legal defense and has effectively protected law enforcement and other government officials from being personally liable for acts that violate an individual’s constitutional rights for years.

District chief Katherine Miller echoed complaints from the New Mexico Association of Counties that current legislation opens the door to potentially costly ramifications for the district and other local governments.

“The problem with drafting the current legislation is that we’re not really going to see what the financial implications this type of legislation could possibly have,” Miller said, which could be serious. “

During Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, District Attorney Greg Shaffer said concerns had been raised about what the bill could do to the county’s insurance tariffs. He also pointed to the lack of a cap on damages that could be brought by a jury in a civil action.

The Commission expects to present a formal decision calling for changes to the draft law at its next meeting.

Commissioner Rudy Garcia noted that it was difficult to comment on the bill as the language could change throughout the legislature’s committee process. He said he supported an equalization cap.

An analysis by lawmakers estimated the bill would increase costs to state and local governments by about $ 7 million a year, while increasing civil rights cases by about 50 percent. According to the analysis, settlements and judgments would more than double from USD 3.6 million to USD 8.1 million.

The nine-member state civil rights commission established in June recognized potential increased costs for local and state governments, but added that people whose rights are violated currently have no other course of action. Cost savings shouldn’t be a priority.

Miller said there is likely a better way to hold officials accountable that wouldn’t be as “drastic”, including improving law enforcement training.

Commissioner Anna Hamilton said she found it “insidious” that the bill is called the New Mexico Civil Rights Act because anyone who opposes it is opposed to civil rights.

“Protecting civil rights is hugely important, but no matter what, you need to define what problems you want to fix and see if you actually take remedial action,” she said.

Sheriff Adan Mendoza recommended that the county not endorse the bill as written.

“We can all agree that civil rights are important, and we want appropriate remedial action that doesn’t necessarily translate into monetary remedial action,” Mendoza said.

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